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Singh v. Singh

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 3, 2019

HEM RAJ SINGH
v.
NEETA SINGH

          Session June 20, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Madison County No. 75532 James F. Butler, Chancellor

         Wife/Appellant appeals the trial court's grant of a divorce to Husband/Appellee. Wife argues that the divorce should be set aside because the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and/or lacked personal jurisdiction over Wife. Wife also asserts that she was not properly served with the complaint for divorce. Because Wife filed an answer and counter-complaint for divorce, without objecting to in personam jurisdiction, she submitted to the jurisdiction of the trial court; her filing of an answer also indicates that she was served with the complaint for divorce. Because Husband/Appellee had resided in Tennessee for more than six months before filing his complaint for divorce, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-101(a) conferred subject matter jurisdiction to the trial court. Affirmed and remanded.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Neeta Singh, Punjab, India, appellant, pro se.

          Kortney Deniece Simmons, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Hem Raj Singh.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

         I. Background

         Appellant Neeta Singh ("Wife") and Appellee Hem Raj Singh ("Husband") were married on October 28, 2016 in Punjab, India. No children were born to the marriage. The parties separated in December 2016, and Mr. Singh returned to Tennessee, where he lived and worked prior to the marriage. Ms. Singh remained in India.

         On May 8, 2017, Mr. Singh filed a complaint for divorce in the Chancery Court for Madison County. The record contains an affidavit of service indicating that Ms. Singh was personally served by Naresh Bhardwaj on May 29, 2017 at her address in India. On June 29, 2017, Ms. Singh filed an answer and counter-complaint for divorce. Because Mr. Singh was not served with Ms. Singh's answer and counter-complaint, he filed a motion for default, which was subsequently denied by the trial court.

         The divorce was tried on September 8, 2017, and Ms. Singh did not appear. On September 18, 2017, the trial court entered its order granting Husband a divorce on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct. Wife filed a notice of appeal on October 19, 2017.[1]

         II. Issues

         Ms. Singh raises several issues in her brief; however, from her arguments, we perceive that there are three dispositive issues, which we state as follows.

         1. Whether the divorce should be set aside because the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

         2. Whether the divorce should be set aside because the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Wife.

         3. Whether Wife was served with the complaint for divorce.[2]

         III. Standard of Review

         This case was tried without a jury. Therefore, we review the trial court's findings of fact de novo with a presumption of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). The trial court's conclusions of law, however, are reviewed de novo and "are accorded no presumption of correctness." Brunswick Acceptance Co., LLC v. MEJ, LLC, 292 S.W.3d 638, 642 (Tenn. 2008).

         Moreover, while we are cognizant of the fact that Ms. Singh is representing herself in this appeal, it is well-settled that "pro se litigants are held to the same procedural and substantive standards to which lawyers must adhere." Brown v. Christian Bros. Univ., No. W2012-01336-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 3982137, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 5, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Jan. 15, 2014). This Court has held that "[p]arties who choose to represent themselves are entitled to fair and equal treatment by the courts." Hodges v. Tenn. Att'y Gen., 43 S.W.3d 918, 920 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000); Paehler v. Union Planters Nat'l Bank, Inc., 971 S.W.2d 393, 396 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). Nevertheless, "courts must not excuse pro se litigants from complying with the same substantive and procedural rules that represented parties are expected to observe." Young v. Barrow, 130 S.W.3d 59, 62-63 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003); Edmundson v. Pratt, 945 S.W.2d 754, 755 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996); Kaylor v. Bradley, 912 S.W.2d 728, 733 n.4 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995).

         Before addressing the issues, we note that the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure place the responsibility for the preparation of the transcript or a statement of evidence on the parties, and the appellant has the primary burden to see that a proper record is prepared and filed in this Court. Tenn. R. App. P. 24; McDonald v. Onoh, 772 S.W.2d 913, 914 (Tenn. Ct. App.1989). Here, the record contains no transcript of the hearing. We note that Ms. Singh filed a document styled "statement of the facts" in the trial court. However, by order of September 6, 2018, the trial court sustained Mr. Singh's objection to the statement on the ground that it did not comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24. Accordingly, in this case, there is no statement of the evidence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(c). It is well settled that, in the absence of a transcript or statement of the evidence, this Court must presume that there was sufficient evidence before the trial court to support its judgment. PNC Multifamily Capital Inst. Fund XXVI Ltd. P'ship v. Mabry, 402 S.W.3d 654, 661 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. April 10, 2013); Outdoor Management LLC v. Thomas, 249 S.W.3d 368, 377 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007).

         Furthermore, Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27(a) mandates that "[t]he brief of the appellant shall contain under appropriate ...


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